“How about you?” he asked.
“I’m starting to get into it. In this crazy world filled with billions of people, we managed to find each other. As Cary would say, we should celebrate that.”
We talked about first dances and seating arrangements as Angus maneuvered us through the traffic that seemed to always clog Midtown. Looking past Mark out the window, I watched a cab come to a stop at the light beside us. The passenger in the back pinched a phone between her shoulder and ear, lips moving a mile a minute and hands furiously flipping through a notebook. Behind her, on the corner, a hot dog cart vendor did brisk business with a waiting line of five people.
When we finally arrived and I stepped out onto the sidewalk I knew right where we were. “Hey!”
Tucked below street level, the Mexican restaurant was one we’d been to before. And it just so happened to employ a server I was very fond of.
Mark laughed. “You quit so suddenly Shawna didn’t have time to request the day off.”
“Aww, man.” My chest felt tight. It was starting to feel like an ending I wasn’t ready for.
“Come on.” He caught me by the elbow and directed me inside, where I quickly spotted the table that held a party of familiar faces and Mylar balloons that said GREAT JOB and BEST WISHES and CONGRATS.
“Wow.” My eyes burned with a sudden wash of tears.
Megumi and Will sat with Steven at a table set for six. Shawna stood behind her brother’s chair, their bright red hair impossible to miss.
“Eva!” they shouted in chorus, drawing the attention of everyone in the room.
“Oh my God,” I breathed, my heart breaking more than a little. I was suddenly filled with sadness and doubt, faced with what I was giving up, even if only in one way. “You guys are so not getting rid of me!”
“Of course not.” Shawna came over and gave me a hug, her slim arms strong and fierce around me. “We’ve got a bachelorette blowout to plan!”
“Woot!” Megumi wrapped me in a hug the second Shawna stepped back.
“Maybe we could skip that tradition,” interjected a warm, deep voice behind me.
Turning in surprise, I faced Gideon. He stood beside Mark with a single, perfect red rose in hand.
Mark flashed a big smile. “He touched base earlier to see if we were doing anything and said he wanted to come.”
I smiled through my tears. I wasn’t losing my friends, and I was gaining so much more. Gideon was always there when I needed him, even before I realized he was the integral piece that was missing.
“I dare you to try their diablo salsa,” I challenged, holding my hand out for my rose.
His lips curved faintly with a subtle smile, the one that did me in every time—and every other woman in the room, too, I couldn’t help but notice. But the look in his eyes, the understanding and support for what I was feeling … That was all mine.
“It’s your party, angel mine.”
The two-story house that sprawled along the coastline glowed with golden warmth spilling from every window. Lights embedded in the curving driveway glittered like a bed of stars in the gloaming, while hydrangea bushes the size of small cars burst with petals around the edges of the wide lawn.
“Isn’t it pretty?” Eva asked, her back to me as she knelt on the black leather bench seat and stared out the window.
“Stunning,” I replied, although I was referring to her. She was vibrating with excitement and a childlike delight. I took that in, needing to understand it and the cause. Her happiness was vital to me. It was the wellspring of my own contentment, the weight that balanced my equilibrium and kept me steady.
She glanced over her shoulder at me as Angus slowed the limo to a halt by the front steps. “Are you checking out my butt?”
My gaze dropped to her ass, cupped so perfectly by the shorts she’d changed into after work. “Now that you mention it …”
She plopped down onto the seat with a huff of laughter. “There’s no help for you, you know that?”
“Yes, I knew there was no cure the first time you kissed me.”
“I’m pretty sure you kissed me.”
I held back a smile. “Is that the way it went?”
Her gaze narrowed. “You better be joking. That moment should be seared into your brain.”
Reaching over, I ran my hand down her bare thigh. “Is it seared into yours?” I murmured, pleased by the thought.
“Hey, now,” Cary interrupted, pulling his ear buds out. “Don’t forget I’m sitting right here.”
Eva’s roommate had been unobtrusively watching a movie on his tablet during the nearly two-hour drive through evening traffic, but I could never forget he was there. Cary Taylor was a fixture in my wife’s life and I accepted it, even if I didn’t like it. While I believed he loved Eva, I also believed he made bad choices that put her in tough situations and even posed a risk.